A couple of weeks ago, the Packers-Chiefs game looked like it could be a candidate for flexing out of prime time, with the Green Bay Packers sitting at 3-6. But a couple of wins later, and suddenly Mahomes-Love 2 has a ton of national appeal.
It’s not just because rumors are swirling that Taylor Swift may become the third-best Taylor to appear at Lambeau Field (behind Jim and Lawrence). Jordan Love’s rapid ascension has the NFL world buzzing, and this will be his best remaining chance in the regular season to take another giant step. Piling up stats against the ragged Los Angeles Chargers and Detroit Lions’ defenses is one thing. Carve up Steve Spagnuolo’s fourth-ranked defense in prime time and go toe to toe with Patrick Mahomes and the champs for 60 minutes, and Love will answer many questions and might permanently silence the haters.
Of course, that will be easier said than done. The good news is his team is getting healthier. Aaron Jones remains out, but AJ Dillon and Jayden Reed returned to practice on Friday and appear on track to play. If you want to succeed against that defense, you must run the ball — the defense ranks 28th against the run.
Running the ball well will cause the blitz-happy Chiefs to pick their spots. Love was like a deer in headlights two years ago when KC sent extra pass rushers from every angle all night in his first career start. Few remember that Love got minimal practice time leading up to the game because of Aaron Rodgers’ COVID diagnosis late in the week. Two years later, he’s a different player. Love has been a top-ten passer against the blitz this season.
If Dillon and the running attack is productive, LaFleur and Love can lean on the play-action game, which was dynamic in Detroit. Reed is available, Dontayvion Wicks has returned, and rookie Malik Heath emerged last week. That complemented Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs, giving Love many receiver options to target. That will be vital on a night when the Packers might ask the backs and tight ends to assist with keeping guys like Chris Jones, George Karlaftis, and Mike Danna away from Love.
As you know, the Chiefs offense has been less than dynamic this season. They have an inexplicable aversion to scoring points in the second half of games. Mahomes will be making his first start at Lambeau. He has been leaning on second-round rookie Rashee Rice, who Kansas City drafted five picks after the Pack selected Reed and whose name I was chanting when the Pack was on the clock. The return from injuries of Kadarius Toney and Jerick McKinnon will give the Chiefs many options beyond Rice and Taylor’s boyfriend.
Considering the opponent and the stage, Joe Barry’s defense is coming off its most impressive performance. The likely returns of Jaire Alexander, Darnell Savage, and Rudy Ford should give the Pack a better chance against the passing game, even though the rookies showed out last week. The key will be getting pressure on Mahomes and understanding that the play is never really over with him. The Rashan Gary–Donovan Smith matchup looks like a mismatch on paper. If Gary can follow up his career day in Motown and maybe force another turnover or two, that could be the difference in the game.
It will be a cold night, with temperatures in the 20s. Like the Pack, the Chiefs will likely rely on their battering ram running back, Isiah Pacheco. He’s tough to wrap up and bring down and could easily be a weekly winner of Kyle Brandt’s “Angry Runs.” If he’s picking up six to eight yards a pop, the Chiefs will move up and down the field.
If Green Bay is going to be in this game in the fourth quarter, they can’t fall behind early and put all the pressure on the passing game. They have to be pristine on special teams and keep the penalties to a minimum.
The Packers are a confident team returning home to face the Super Bowl champs in prime time. They’re catching the Chiefs at a favorable time. Kansas City is coming off a big double-digit divisional win and gets Josh Allen and a showdown with the Buffalo Bills at home next weekend.
Maybe the Pack comes in a little more motivated. Perhaps they remember that the next time they lose a game in December will be Matt LaFLeur’s first-ever loss in December. I’ll be at the game. Maybe Taylor Swift will cry on my shoulder at around 10:15. Maybe I’ll tell her to “Shake It Off.”
Or maybe not.